Julie's Vodaphone volunteer odyssey
Thursday 12th July 2012
Julie Riley putting out small mammal traps on a reserve
Read the full account of Julie Riley's time with us as a Vodaphone World of Difference volunteer.
“Imagine spending time making a difference working for your dream charity and getting paid. That's what the Vodafone World of Difference UK programme is all about.”
I read these words in Autumn 2011 and knew that the Wildlife Trust had hosted several placements previously, but I had never applied due to work commitments. However this year’s scheme offered the chance to work part-time over four months which was perfect! I sent off my application and was delighted when I made the shortlist. After a telephone interview I discovered I was one of the lucky 500 people across the country who would be funded to donate themselves to their favourite charity!
After an inspirational induction event hosted by Gok Wan and the Vodafone Charitable Foundation, I started my placement at the beginning of March 2012. I have been working as an ecologist for the Living Landscapes team. My work has been focused on updating and enhancing the information SWT has about habitat and wildlife on its 12 existing Nature Reserves – work that SWT has not been able to do previously due to lack of funding or suitably qualified volunteers. SWT’s nature reserves act as oases for wildlife and are key sites within the Trust’s Living Landscapes strategy, which aims to make connections between these havens to create a resilient and healthy wildlife-rich environment for everyone.
The Living Landscapes team gave me a long list of surveys and tasks to fit in to my four months, these have included:
Looking for veteran and notable trees at Blacka Moor NR.
These are important habitats for wildlife and often have value as historical features too – for example, old overgrown coppiced or pollarded trees show evidence of how trees used to be managed to create a continuous supply of wood or bark for use as fuel, building materials, basket-making, and many more uses – even to help tan leather.
Over several days I walked over what felt like every inch of the moorland assessing older trees for various features such as dead wood, cracks, peeling bark, hollows etc. and measuring the tree at chest height – literally ”hugging a tree” at times – I must have looked quite odd! These have now all been mapped and photographed. I had a heart-stopping moment while scrambling over a patch of bracken, as a group of stags suddenly appeared; we had a good look at each other before they moved off.
Habitat surveying at Fox Hagg.
Fox Hagg NR is out at the western edge of the city, and last year we took on the lease for an additional area stretching towards Wyming Brook. I was tasked to carry out a “Phase 1” habitat survey of the area. This is a standardised method of mapping different types of habitat onto an underlying OS or landline map - once you've identified what kind of habitat you're looking at (e.g. semi-natural deciduous woodland, dense bracken, scattered scrub, heathland - you get the idea!) you then draw this onto the map.
This job turned into a running battle with the weather, on the four separate days that I visited the reserve, I had to apply factor 30 suncream on day one, on the second day everything was under 3 inches of snow (beautiful, but hard to see what was growing…), the third day was ‘normal’ and on the last day I finished the survey I was caught in a rainstorm then hailed on for several minutes until I was soaked to the skin!
Each habitat type is mapped using a different colour and pattern code, and in the 'olden days' you would spend hours painstakingly colouring all this in by hand. Nowadays we have the wonders of modern technology, and once I'd done the fieldwork, I mapped it all on the computer using a GIS programme called Mapinfo, which did all the hard work for me. This plus the report and species list should give plenty of baseline information which will help when the Management Plan is drawn up later on this year.
Bird surveys at Moss Valley and Carbrook Ravine.
I’ve been getting up at dawn to carry out a cut-down version of the Common Bird Census at these two reserves, trying to spot and hear every bird, identify it (the hardest part!), work out what it's doing (singing? calling? fighting? building a nest?), and using a set of specific mapping symbols, accurately log it. With each visit, I’m building up a picture of where the bird activity is concentrated, and from that can work out how many territories are being held and then extrapolate a rough idea of how many birds are breeding on the site.
I’ve been repeating the survey every month and trying to squeeze in a few extra visits, I’ve seen some wonderful birds including nesting great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches, baby coal tits, soaring buzzards, a lovely whitethroat, even a hunting sparrowhawk that gave me a fright as it flew low out of a holly bush!
Mammal trapping at Moss Valley.
As part of the monitoring work on these reserves, I’ve been doing some small mammal trapping. We use Longworth traps which include a nest box, this is filled with nesting material and food, typically grains, seeds or in my case, a generous spoonful of Mouse Munch pet food! You also have to put in fresh carrot or apple (to provide moisture) and, most grossly, casters (blowfly larvae) which are there to feed any shrews that get trapped.
At Moss Valley we caught bank voles and wood mice, once identified they were released back into the wild. You may have seen the photographs on our Facebook page! Monitoring the species using the reserve helps us to understand if our management programme is working, and make adjustments if necessary.
As well as these larger projects I have been doing a number of other things, including a grassland survey on the meadows at Blacka Moor, planning and leading a guided walk around Greno Woods, and tagging veteran trees at Moss Valley. I’ve also been writing a blog which you can read at http://worldofdifference.vodafone.co.uk/blogs/julie-riley/ or link to through the Trust’s Facebook page.
I’ve certainly been kept busy, and I’d like to thank the wonderful group of volunteers who have been helping me out, with driving to the sites, spotting birds, spooning casters into traps and identifying plants, among other things. My placement finishes at the end of June and I really hope that my work has allowed SWT to make the best use of their limited funding, and contributed towards the knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity that exists on our reserves.